JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Saturday, March 04, 2017


I can’t say she was beautiful, but then photographs are a poor record of personality. The newspapers called her “comely”, which the dictionary defines as “pleasing and wholesome in appearance.” But Dolly Oesterreich (pronounced "Ace-strike") (above) was not wholesome. She was, when our story begins, about 33 years old, an age at which a woman, so we are told, reaches the peak of her sensuality. However, I suspect that Dolly had always been skilled at seduction. Murder? Not so much.
For 15 years Dolly had been married to Fred Oesterreich (above), a man whose only selling point as a husband was that he was wealthy. He owned an apron factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was constantly berating his 60 seamstresses to work faster.
He pinched every penny and drove himself as hard as he drove his employees. Of course, he was better paid. As a result of his dedication to his job, the Oesterreiches  grew richer. And Dolly grew lonelier. So it should have come as no surprise when, in 1913,  Dolly asked her husband to dispatch a particular repairman she had seen about his apron factory, to fix her personal sewing machine.
His name was Otto Sanhuber  (above) , and when our story begins, he was all of 17. Again it seems, the photographs do not do him justice, either. To the casual observer he looked like a mousy milk toast of a man.  But Dolly must have recognized that, beyond Otto’s nebbish exterior, loomed an undiscovered Hercules of passion.
Dolly (above) answered Otto's knock attired only in a robe and slippers.  She showed him to her bedroom, where she kept her Singer. She lounged on the bed while Otto adjusted her bobbin. Dolly brushed back her hair. Otto tightened her belts. Dolly lifted a leg. Otto greased her shuttle shaft.  Dolly let her robe fall open. And according to Otto, he threaded her needle eight times that first afternoon.
They began by sneaking assignations in the Oesterrich home while Fred was at work, but a needling neighbor warned Fred about the man who was constantly coming and going from his house.  Dolly was forced to hem and haw an excuse. Then the lovers substituted Otto’s depressing rooms, and then a hotel. But every rendezvouses ran the risk of uncovering their affair. Eventually, Dolly conceived a simple pattern for their love. Otto quit his job and moved into the attic of the Oesterreich home (above). A curtain was thus drawn and there would be no more comings and goings - none visible to the neighbors, anyway.
The thread of Otto’s life had found his spool. The hook of Dolly’s life had found her eye. For three years they pulled the wool over Fred’s eyes. For three years Otto slept above his mistresses’ marriage bed, slipping out of his hidden attic room by day to help Dolly with her housework, and once the dishes were done, to pump her treadle and spin her crank. There were loose threads, of course, that threatened to unfray the fabric of their affair. But with a little tacking, awl was mended.
Eventually Fred got the notion of moving his factory to Los Angeles,  and in 1918 he bought Dolly a grand home on North St. Andrew’s Place (above)  in that city.  Dolly made certain the new home had a tidy tiny attic room, so Otto would feel comforted too.  Life was a perfect fit for Dolly and Otto. And Fred. As long as Fred never noticed how much it was costing him to feed and clothe one woman.
This happy scene unraveled on the night of Tuesday, 22 August, 1922,  four years after the move to Los Angeles.  Fred and Dolly returned from a dinner party and a fight broke out.  Fred lost his temper and actually struck Dolly.  And that was when Otto, listening upstairs, rushed to the rescue from his hidden room,  carrying a .22 pistol.  Now why did he have one of those?  The two men struggled. Otto’s gun went off three times, and Fred went down.  His string had run out. A few moments later the police arrived to discover an apparent house robbery gone bad.  The husband was dead on the living room floor and the hysterical wife was locked in the hall closet.  Still, there was something that made the police suspicious. When sweatered by the cops,  Dolly insisted the couple had never fought. The police, many of them married men,  knew that had to be a lie, but they couldn't prove it.
Dolly was arrested, and charged (above) with the murder of her husband. While she was in lockup Dolly pleated with one of her lawyers, Herman Shapiro, to do her a tiny  favor.  Dolly claimed to have an addled half-brother named Otto who lived in her attic, and who must be running short of food by now. Already under Dolly’s beguiling influence, Herman agreed to deliver sustenance to the half brother.
When he tapped on the hidden attic door, a bespeckeled little face appeared and wolfed down the food, and talked; he talked as if he had no one to speak to for years. He was, in fact, explained Otto, a sewing machine repairman who had come to fix Dolly’s machine years before, in Wisconsin,  and stayed to be her “sex slave”. Otto said nothing about Fred’s murder, but Herman was a lawyer and no fool. But being a lawyer, he kept his mouth shut.
Without knowledge of Otto, the Police case against Dolly (above, center)  fell apart, and she was released. But Herman Shapiro found he now cottoned to Dolly, and he insisted that before anything happened between them, Otto had to go. 
So, in 1923, Otto moved out of the attic. He went to Canada and established his own life. He even married (above). But, eventually, in search of work,  he moved himself and his new wife back to Los Angeles. In L.A. he got a job as a porter in a hotel. And Otto might have lived there happily ever after with his devoted wife, if only Herman Shapiro had kept his big fat mouth sewn shut.
In 1930, eight years after Fred’s death, Herman finally realized the seductress (above) from Milwaukee was never going to marry him, after he discovered she was secretly seducing her business manager, Mr. Ray Bert Hendrick.  Maybe the lady just couldn't help herself. Maybe Bert was really good at business and not so good at managing. A lawyer scorned,  Herman went to the police and confessed his encounter with the man in the attic. 
The police checked the long since abandoned Oesterreich homes in Wisconsin and Los Angeles and discovered Otto’s hidden abodes, and the veil was stripped from their eyes. Dolly's life quickly unraveled. 
Otto was arrested, and he made a full confession (above)  about the night he burst out of his hidden room to confront the violent Fred, and how he shot him dead.. 
And he showed (above) his tiny room where he hid while the police searched the night of the shooting, and did not find him.
And Dolly was arrested again. And charged with murder, again. 
Otto was convicted of manslaughter. But, since the statute of limitations for manslaughter was eight years, which had just run out, Otto was released immediately after his conviction. He then faded from history. I wonder if his marriage survived the revelations. I'm willing to bet they did.  
Dolly’s trial ended in a hung jury, the majority favoring her acquittal.  She was never retried, and lived out the rest of her life over a garage, surviving on the meager remains of the fortune that Fred had amassed - which would have infuriated Fred, had he not been dead.  In the end I guess Dolly was still needling poor hardworking unaware Fred.
Dolly did remarry in 1961, at the age of 75 (above, center). Her new husband was her long time business manager, Ray Bert Hendrick (above, left). She died just two weeks later.
It brings to mind the way that Leo Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.  And this family was surely particularly unhappy, because whatever it was that Otto and Fred and Dolly were doing together, they were doing it tailored to fit their very own custom fit lives.
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Friday, March 03, 2017


I do not believe the Reverend Kelly. But I am not sure if I don’t believe him when he said he did not murder those eight people, or when he said he did.  What I do know is that five years later, passengers on board the westbound number 5 train,  which had pulled out of little station at Villisca, Iowa (above)  at 5:19 A.M. that Monday morning, remembered the twitchy, diminutive preacher telling his fellow bleary eyed travelers that he had left eight butchered bodies back in Villisca. The bodies would not be discovered until almost eight that morning. So if the sleepy witnesses correctly remembered the words spoken to them five years earlier by a strange little preacher they had never seen before, then he was guilty of an unspeakable horror. If they were wrong, he was innocent. Of course, either way, he was crazy as a loon. And don't get me started on why none of the travelers told anybody at the time, about the odd little preacher and his tale of horror.
Villisca is a self proclaimed “community of pride where the rivers divide”,  the rivers being the West and Middle branches of the Nordaway River. It lies  80 miles southwest of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Montgomery County was settled in the mid 19th century,  mostly by people from the old Midwest, upstate New York and Pennsylvania, people with names like Bates and Bowman, Kennedy and Hoover, Powers and Preston and Wymore. 
They arrived on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad, called by her customers just “The Q”.  At the time no community in Iowa was more than a few miles from an active passenger rail line. Most of the residents of Villisca either sold services or equipment to the local farmers or worked for the railroad. And in 1912 the little town contained about 2,000 souls..
On the morning of June 10th, 1912,  inside a  sad looking two story house (now at 323 East 4th.Street) were found the bodies of Mr. Josiah Moore, his wife Sara, their daughter Katherine and their sons Herman, Boyd and Paul (below) , as well as the bodies of their overnight child guests, Lena and Ina Stillinger. The children were aged 5 through age 12. 
All the victims were found in their beds, with their heads covered with bedclothes. All had their skulls battered 20 to 30 times with the blunt end of an ax, which was found wiped clean in the downstairs sewing room/bedroom,  along with the bodies of the Stillinger girls.
The ceilings in the parent's bedroom and the children's room upstairs showed gouge marks, apparently made by the upswing of the ax blade
Downstairs little Lena Stillinger’s nightgown was pushed up, leaving her genitalia exposed. But the doctors said there was no evidence of molestation. There was an odd bloodstain on her knee and an alleged defensive wound on her arm.  A two pound slab of bacon was found, wrapped in a dishtowel, on the bedroom floor.  
On the kitchen table was a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water. The medical estimate was that all of the murders had occurred shortly after midnight, the morning of 10 June, 1912.
On 11 June, 1912,  Mr. Sam Moyer was arrested for the murders.  He was released on the 15th. On 20 June, 1912  Mr. John Bohland was arrested for the murders. He was released a few days later.  
On 5 July, 1912, Mr. Frank Roberts (“a negro”) was arrested for the murders. He was released a few days later. On 28 December, farmer and the ex-brother-in-law to victim Sara Moore,  Mr. Lew Van Alstine,   was arrested for the murders. He was released a few weeks later. On 15 July, 1916,  Mr. William Mansfield was arrested for the murders. On 21 July,  he was released. 
On 19 March, 1917, five years after the murders, the Reverend J.J. Burris told a Grand Jury sitting in the county seat of Red Oak, that a mystery man had confessed on his death bed to having committed the murders.  And finally, on 30 April, 1917,  a warrant for the arrest of the Reverend George Kelly was issued. He arrived to surrender himself two weeks later, oddly enough on the Number 5 train.
The authorities first became interested in the Reverend (above, on the right) a few weeks after the murders, alerted by local recipients of his rambling letters. He had arrived in Villisca for the first time the Sunday morning before the murders, and had attended a Sunday school performance by the Stillinger girls. He had left Villisca the following day, Monday morning on that Number 5 train..
Two weeks later he had returned posing as a detective, and had even joined a tour of the murder house with a group of real investigators (above).  There was virtually no control of the crime scene. The only thing stopping police from arresting George Kelly immediately was that it was abundantly clear the Reverend was absolutely crazy.
Lyn George Jacklin Kelly (above left, again with his wife) was the son and the grandson of English ministers, who, as an adolescent, had suffered a “mental breakdown”.  He had immigrated to America with his wife in 1904 and preached at a dozen Methodist churches across North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Iowa. Preaching from the pulpit he was “...a confident, well-versed, and articulate speaker”. But in personal interactions the 5 foot, 119 pound minister displayed “...a nervous demeanor, shifty eyes, and often spoke so quickly that saliva would dribble down his chin”.He had been assigned as a visiting minister to several small communities north of Villisca, where  he developed a reputation for odd behavior; late night walks, rumors that he was a peeping tom and unconfirmed stories that he had tried to convince young girls to undress for him.  In 1914, while preaching in South Dakota,  he had advertised for a private secretary. One young woman who responded was informed by return post that Kelly wanted her to type in the nude (above) . He was convicted of sending obscene material through the mail, and spent time in a mental hospital.  While there he wrote to the Montgomery County D.A. that he expected at any moment to be arrested for the Villisca murders.Finally, after investigating just about every other possibility, the Grand Jury indicted Kelly for the murder of Lena Stillinger.  All through the summer of 1917, while in jail awaiting trial, Kelly was interrogated.
The last interview was on 30 August,  a marathon session that lasted all night (above) .  At 7AM on the morning of the 31 August,  Kelly signed a confession to the murder, saying God had whispered to him to “suffer the children to come unto me.”
At trial the Reverend Kelly recanted his confession, and on Wednesday, 26 September the case went to the jury, which deadlocked eleven to one for acquittal.
A second jury was immediately empanelled, and in November the Reverend Kelly was acquitted by all 12 jurors. No one else was ever tried for the murders. And the crime remains one of the most horrific, unsolved mass murders in American history, known simply as the Villisca Axe Murders.Did he do it?  I don't know. The passengers on the number 5 train that Monday morning were pretty sure he had confessed to them, three hours before the bodies were discovered. But did they really remember the confession, five years later? And why had they not reported the confession at the time? Was it really the morning of of the murders? Or had it happened two weeks after the murders, when Reverend Kelly had impersonated a detective? It is enough to shake your faith in any certainty in this world. ( http://www.villiscaiowa.com/)
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Thursday, March 02, 2017

TOMBSTONES Chapter Twenty

I know what Billy Clanton (above) was thinking when the shooting stopped. When photographer C.S. Fly bent down to take the empty Colt Revolver from his hand, Billy Clanton told him, "Give me more cartridges". A few moments later, when they lifted the 19 year old's bleeding body he cried out in pain, "They have murdered me. I have been murdered." 
Inside the Harwood House, after Dr. Gibberson softened his pain with morphine, Billy was boastful again, threatening Wyatt - "If only I could get my teeth into that son-of-a-bitch's throat, I'd die happy." But when he realized he was slipping into the gentle night, Billy ordered the gawkers to, "Go away and let me die." But Billy was the appointed Hector of Tombstone, the last hero of the melodrama, and his public was not to be denied.
The funeral of Billy and the McLaury brothers was staged - and that is the right word - the very next day, a cold gray Thursday, 27 October, 1881. Andrew Jackson "Andy" Ritter propped the three caskets up in the front window of Ritter and Ream City Undertakers, behind a sign which read "Murdered on the Street of Tombstone" so they could be photographed (above). The Democratic Tombstone Nugget that day cried that “Three Men" had been "Hurled Into Eternity In the Duration of a Moment.” 
And at about 4:00pm - fashionably late - the 3 hearses, 22 carriages and 300 mourners,  all led by the volunteer firemen (above),  made their way to the Old Cemetery - it would not be called Boot Hill until the arrival of 20th century tourists. 
 Some 2,000 watched the procession, and even Cochise County Republicans were uneasy with the violence which had exploded on the streets of Tombstone..
It was lucky for the Democrats that Ike Clanton, the Paris in this Cow Boy Iliad, the man most responsible for the gun fight, ran away and lived.  Four days later Ike filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday.  Older brother William McLaury, who was a practicing lawyer, came up from Texas to help prosecute the case. And a New York Democratic editorial cartoonist depicted wild man Virgil Earp, two guns blazing, trying to herd Arizona into statehood with violence (above).  In fact the shoot out helped delay Arizona statehood until Valentines Day, 1912 - making it the last of the 48 contiguous states to join the union.
The one clearly disinterested witness at the Earp's trial, a tuberculosis sufferer named Henry F. Sills, who was a fireman on the Atcheson, Topeka and the Sante Fe Railroad and had only arrived in Tombstone the day before, supported the Earps in all important details. The hearing judge decided the Earps had done nothing illegal. But like all violence, the shoot out did not merely end. There were aftershocks.
Half an hour before midnight, on Wednesday, 28 December, 1881, Virgil Earp (above) was shot from ambush while walking into the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Dr. Goodfellow had to remove 4 inches of Virgil's left humerus, making him a cripple for life. The suspected shooters were Phin and Ike Clanton, Cow Boys Johnny Barnes, Johnny Ringo, Hank Swilling and Pete Spence. Although arrested, all 6 were released on $1,500 bail. No trial was ever held.
Ten minutes before eleven on the evening of Saturday, 18 March, 1882,  Morgan Earp (above) was shot through the spine while playing billiards. He died soon after. A coroner's jury would conclude the assassins were Pete Spence, Frank Stillwell, Frederick Bode and Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. Convinced the Republican Party had abandoned his family, and the local Democratic courts would never punish the Cow Boys the Earps had been sent to Tombstone to breakup, Wyatt gathered a small band of supporters, and rode out to punish those who had injured his loved ones. In true epic tradition, it would be called his vendetta ride.
It began the night of Monday, 20 March, 1882. The wounded Virgil Earp, his wife and Morgan's widow boarded a Southern Pacific train to take Morgan's body to California for burial. The next morning, between the railroad tracks, the little dandy, Frank Stillwell (above), was found so full of lead the coroner described his corpse as "the worst shot up man I ever saw." Frank was the first. 
Indian Charlie died second, on 23 March. And on 24 March, Johnny Barnes was shot to death, along with William "Curley Bill" Brocius (above)  at Iron Springs, in the Whitestone Mountains, northeast of Tombstone. All of them were presumably murdered by Wyatt Earp, in revenge.
John "Johnny Ringo" Peters, so called "King of  the Cow Boys"  evidently committed suicide in July of 1882. 
Wanted for rustling, loudmouth, alcoholic Issac "Ike" Clanton was killed while avoiding arrest in 1887.   His elder brother, Phin Clanton,  served 17 months in the Yuma Territorial prison, also for rustling. He died in 1906. 
The ex-Texas Ranger and stage robber, Pete Spence (above),  aka Elliot Larkin Ferguson,  also did 18 months in Yuma, but for manslaughter. In 1910 he married Phin Clanton's widow, and died in 1914. Thus the villains of Tombstone.
The subterranean towers of this Ilium   -  the mines of Tombstone - were drowned in 1887 after fires destroyed the pumps that kept them workable, and the price of silver plummeted. Fire also destroyed Fly's Boarding House and the Harwood house as well. 
The dawning 20th century made copper the new gold, and by 1929 the Copper Queen mine in Bisbee drew the Cochise County seat there, leaving Tombstone to fade into the Sonora desert. During the 1930's Arizona politicians tried to kill the town by using New Deal money to "improve" Fremont Street, plowing over the site of the shoot out  (above) and obliterating the history. But Tombstone refused to die.
Tuberculosis killed 36 year old John Henry "Doc" Holliday (above), in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in November of 1887.  He died alone, in the company of a hired nurse. 
Almost all of the stories of robberies and murders attributed to Doc Holliday and the Earps originated with John Harris Behan (above), the corrupt sheriff of Cochise County. When the mines failed, Johnny moved on, leaving behind debts and missing funds. He was the brutal superintendent of the Yuma Prison for 2 years, stealing an estimated $50,000. Always a Democratic appointee and always corrupt, by the turn of the century he was in Washington, D.C., but quickly returned to the Southwest. He died in Tuscon in 1912, of heart failure brought on by 30 years of syphilis, which he had contracted in Tombstone. Like most villains, he was usually guilty of the very sins he attributed to others.
The Southern Pacific Railroad provided a California job for the handicapped Virgil Earp, and supported him until he died of his wounds on 19 October, 1905. 
Wyatt Earp died of a urinary tract infection in January of 1929, at the age of 80. 
His second common law wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, died on 20 December, 1944. Neither of them suffered from syphilis. But like most gamblers "Sadie" died broke. Her funeral was paid for by silent movie cowboy William S. Hart, and Hollywood theater owner Sid Grauman. Thus the heroes of the Tombstone saga.
Between 1860, when Frederick Brunckow discovered silver ore along the banks of the San Pedro River, to 1890, when the mines drowned, something around $85 million dollars worth of silver was harvested from the black veins around Tombstone, Arizona. Figuring in the efforts of those who fed and entertained the miners, treated their wounds, physical and emotional, and buried their bodies, Tombstone's silver fulfilled thousands of dreams and millions of nightmares. Those who died in the effort in this desert would have died someplace else, at some other time. But this is where they died, and this was when, because the earth cracked here long before humans ever set eyes upon the place.
And asking why their tombstones were erected here, may not be worth the effort.
But nothing that happened in Tombstone was an accident, anymore than the way rocks crack along molecular lines is an accident, or the way greed drives humans to murder is an accident. But of the two ways to get rich, the fastest is to not bother with reason, and simply grab anything and everything you can. Reason is far slower to show a profit,  but it makes you far richer, and for far longer. As they said in the saloons and brothels along Allen Street,  "Name your poison, stranger."
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